In a recent letter to the Editor, Mary Masiel of Princeton expressed her belief that Stephen Harper has done more damage to Canada than any other Prime Minister. Sentiments such as this are not uncommon, whether referring to the current Prime Minister or others before him. I consider her statement a reason to acquaint ourselves with the present leadership candidates. Only by being vigilant and informed will we be likely to elect leaders we trust and respect.
With the federal election on the horizon, many candidates are already in the political marketplace, shopping for votes. The parties are engaging pollsters to determine what issues are important to Canadians. They are beginning to tell us what they hope we want to hear.
Possibly one reason we are so often displeased with politicians is that we don’t pay sufficient attention to what they are saying and doing long before we enter the voting booth. And we aren’t asking enough tough questions and demanding substantive replies. If we have an inadequate understanding of a candidate‘s character, how can we even guess at what that individual will do if elected?
When we complacently vote according to party brand, we are essentially telling politicians, “we are not deeply interested in the affairs of our nation. You have our permission to do whatever you think is best.”
For me deciding who to vote for begins with the underlying principle that I will not give my heart to any political party. Then I look at the leaders. In this regard I like Peter C Newman’s words in Home Country, “I stopped believing in magical leaders.” Like the rest of us, political leaders are flawed, and we should not decide who we will support on the basis of party brand, charisma, or extravagant promises.
With this understanding, I hope to find particular qualities in a party leader. Wisdom and sound judgment seem a good place to start. Without these, a leader can cause serious damage, especially to those having little political clout. RB Bennett, Prime Minister in the early years of the Great Depression (1930-35) seemingly lacked these qualities.
Bennett approved the construction of work camps for young men
unable to find employment. The administration of these camps was generally appalling, the pay abominable. The men embarked on a trek to Ottawa to make the government aware of their serious grievances. Instead of giving them an audience, Bennett ordered the RCMP to halt the march in Regina. The crackdown was harsh, with some bloodshed. With wisdom and sound judgment, the discouraged young men could have been given a hearing and their legitimate grievances dealt with fairly. Fortunately Bennett lasted only one term.
I also hope a leader will deeply and genuinely care about and respect the citizens of the country. As a student at SFU, I was caught up in the Trudeaumania that swept through Canada in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau first ran for the position of Prime Minister. Like many Canadians, I thought he would bring a creative approach and positive solutions to complex issues. Instead, when his popularity waned, from the comfort of his plush railroad coach he gave the finger to 3 disheartened placard carrying citizens. He also raised gas and other taxes after promising during the election campaign he would not. Newman’s opinion is that “Trudeau didn’t understand Canadians and their concerns. What is worse, he didn’t appear to care.”
Another quality I look for is integrity. When Jean Chretien made his promises public in the famous Liberal Red Book, I thought he intended to fulfill them. Apparently their sole purpose was to garner votes.
Fortunately Canada has had leaders who exemplified good
character and values. Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Liberal Prime Minister from 1896 to 1911, is still considered by many to have been a true Canadian statesman. JS Woodsworth, the main founder and first leader of what later became the NDP has been called the “conscience of Parliament.“ Robert Stanfield, leader of the Progressive Conservative Opposition from 1967 to 1976 continues to be regarded as an honourable politician by political writers.
If we want good governance in Canada, it is essential that we elect individuals of good character. To accomplish this we will have to be diligent, proactive and vigilant.